Many of you have come to know and embrace the teachings of Stephen R. Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Considered one of the top business and leadership books of all time, it is a true treasure trove of wisdom that I find myself returning to time and time again. Like others have found, the book speaks to you on multiple dimensions, personal and professional, family and community, and more. Lately, I’ve been enlightened by its relevance and application to Agile Transformation.
Though the book has “People” in the title, Covey does well in relating everything to organizations. And as we know, organizations are made up of people and Agile Transformation is all about people. That said, the wisdom of Covey naturally extends to Agile Transformation or really organizational change in general.
And thus begins this blog series where I will explore the 7 Habits as they relate to Agile Transformation. But first, let’s get grounded in Covey’s way of thinking.
ON PARADIGMS & PRINCIPLES
The 7 Habits are grounded in the concepts of paradigms and principles. If you’re like me, you may need a refresher on what exactly is meant by these terms before we move on. Simply put, a paradigm is a way of looking at something, or more precisely the way you look at something. They are our perceptions of the world around us, the mental models we have formed, and the frames we subconsciously reference as we go about our daily business. However, paradigms tend to overshadow reality, so the way you look at something isn’t necessarily the way it really is. Covey was most profound in saying, “The way we see the problem is the problem”. While deeply embedded in our character, paradigms can change and be changed. This change is what’s known as a paradigm shift. Covey describes a paradigm shift as the “Aha!” moment when you see things in a new way.
You can think of organizations as having paradigms too that are deeply embedded in its culture; that is, the way it views its employees, its market, its competitors, and really the world. In fact, the massive change that is an Agile Transformation is a paradigm shift unto itself. The organization moves away from one way of looking at things to a new way that more closely aligns with principles and, hopefully, emerges to be more effective.
Whereas you can change your paradigm, principles are quite the opposite. Principles are fundamental truths that cannot be changed or broken. They are considered the laws, rules, and facts of nature that guide all human beings. Think of common principles like honesty, fairness, and potential.
If you’re still baffled by paradigms and principles, Covey has a helpful analogy that describes paradigms as maps and principles as the territory. The distinction is that the map is not the territory it represents, but rather, an explanation or interpretation of the territory. If you have the wrong map, you get lost. Likewise, if you have inaccurate paradigms that are misaligned with these fundamental principles, the less effective you will be. Or rather, the more aligned and harmonious our paradigms (maps) are with these principles (the territory), the more effective we can be, which leads us directly into the 7 Habits.
With this knowledge of paradigms and principles and how they tie to effectiveness, we’re ready to further explore The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Agile Transformation.
HABIT 1: BE PROACTIVE
The first of Covey’s 7 Habits, “Be Proactive”, is an exploration into our innate freedom of choice, made possible by the gift of self-awareness that we are all endowed with as human beings. The book gets into the science of stimulus and response with the well-known Pavlov’s Dogs’ experiment on classical conditioning that most of us learned about in school. But, as self-aware beings, we are not Pavlov’s dogs as we have a choice in how we respond. To this end, Covey provides a jarring story of a Jewish prisoner of a Nazi concentration camp that found solace in the one thing that couldn’t be taken from him, his freedom of choice.
Self-awareness, along with imagination, conscience, and independent will, gives us the ability to choose how we respond to anything and everything in the world around us. While an organization is not self-aware unto itself, it is made up of self-aware humans that each contribute to the culture and ultimately, the choices of the organization. With that, we are here to talk about Agile Transformation as the choice of an organization and a proactive choice at that.
So, what does it mean to be proactive? Covey explains that being proactive is more about taking responsibility, or “response-ability” as he puts it than it is about taking initiative. The same could be said of an organization. Simply put, a proactive organization takes responsibility for how they choose to respond, to their industry, to market conditions, to their employees, etc. Proactive organizations are driven by their organizational values and deliberate, thoughtful, and intentional in their actions.
Quite the opposite is a reactive organization. Just like not making a choice is a choice, so is being reactive. Reactive organizations, often characterized by a culture of complacency, are submerged in the status quo and merely react to their market, the industry, and the circumstances around them. True transformation is not fostered from a reactive organization. Rather, those organizations are wallowing in self-pity as the world changes around them. They are not the disruptors, but rather the disrupted. It’s a wonder how companies like this that wait for something to happen to them, even survive, but I’m sure we can all name a few.
I worked for a company that often referred to that sort of reactive organization as the “Horse & Buggy Company”; that is, a company that lacks the drive to take responsibility for their own future to proactively transform as the world advances around them. You don’t want to be the Horse & Buggy Company, because as we all know, you won’t survive. As Covey asserts, “The organization does not have to be at the mercy of the environment; it can take the initiative to accomplish the shared values and purposes of the individuals involved.”
For an Agile Transformation to truly be effective it must be grounded in the realization that the whole organization is responsible for it, not a 3rd party nor a single person or department. There’s a saying around here at LeadingAgile when it comes to Transformation that goes something like “we won’t do it for you, we won’t do it to you, but we’ll do it with you.” This epitomizes the proactive response an organization must take to truly transform. It’s not only about embracing the idea of a transformation, but also taking the responsibility for it.
As part of this habit, Covey goes on to introduce the concept of Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence, which again can be applied beyond the individual to the organization. The Circle of Concern is those things that a company should be concerned about like the economy and politics. The Circle of Influence sits within the Circle of Concern and is those things that a company can control like their market messaging, employee satisfaction, and customer service. A proactive organization focuses time and energy on growing its Circle of Influence by focusing on what it can do something about and taking the initiative to effect positive change. Therein lies the transformation. A company’s choice to pursue a transformation is a proactive response to their circumstances that powerfully affects their effectiveness and ultimately their success.
For the next part of the series, we’ll take a close look at Habit 2, Begin With The End In Mind, as it relates to effective Agile Transformation and how a company might go about doing just that. While it seems obvious to some, it tends to be a common failure mode of Agile Transformations.